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Between McCain and the Deep Blue Sea

How not to leave well enough alone.

By Petrarch  |  September 26, 2008

Being a Maverick is a lonely calling but it has its rewards.

It's gratifying to become your party's presidential nominee, but it's exhilarating to do so after everyone else gave up your campaign for dead.  It's one thing to make a wise selection of running-mate; it's quite another to make a pick that drives your opponents crazy, resuscitates the dying embers of your party's core to a roaring inferno, and creates a brightly-shining new rock star in the political firmament.

The advantage of being a Maverick is that, by definition, nobody knows what you'll do next, so you regularly see the thrilling sight of shock and awe on the faces of your enemies.

We thought we'd seen all the surprises and turnabouts one campaign season could contain, but it turns out McCain's bag of tricks is far from empty.  In an action that will provide fodder for a thousand case-studies and doctoral dissertations, John McCain has suspended his campaign so he can return to Washington and assist in getting an immediate financial rescue package through Congress to save our financial markets and our economy.

He's just the man to do it, too.  For all that Obama and his media cheerleaders deride him as "McSame,"  John McCain has a decades-long track record of working with both sides to get legislation passed.  Earlier this week, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, from the Senate floor, said McCain's support was necessary to get anything accomplished - though he's not too pleased that McCain is giving the requested support and thus becoming entitled to all the credit.

What's more, with this move, Obama is now in an impossible position.  Either he, too, suspends his campaign and returns to the Senate to face the emergency, in which case he's a Junior Woodchuck following the leadership of McCain, or he stays on the trail blasting McCain, in which case he shows he's just another irresponsible, ambitious politician and illustrates how much more the Republican puts "Country First!"

The trouble is that, as much fun as being a maverick can be, it is not nearly so much fun for the people on his putative team.  It's great to watch the Maverick disemboweling your opponents, but at any moment he's liable to turn around and start disemboweling you instead.

And that's just what has become inevitable.  It's not often that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi jointly put forward a wise plan of action, but they hit the nail on the head last week:

Asked if Congress would pass legislation to deal with the crisis before a planned recess next week, Reid said no, adding: "No one knows what to do."

If you don't know what you're doing, it's best not to do anything because doing the wrong thing generally makes things worse:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended the decision of Congress to adjourn. Lawmakers can always be recalled to Washington "if there is a need to do so," she told reporters yesterday. In the meantime, House and Senate committees will hold hearings and the financial crisis will be studied by Congress, she said. "Our work will continue even if we are not still on the floor," she said.

Well, that was last week, and this is this week.  All of a sudden, both sides of the aisle agree that Something Must Be Done.

And when Something Must Be Done and Congress has no idea just what, well, what is it that always happens?  That's right - they throw our money at the problem.  Well, actually, this time they plan to throw Chinese money, ours is all gone.

Never has there ever been a bigger pile of money thrown than the unimaginably gargantuan $700 billion (or more, it's open-ended) that President Bush and Secretary Paulson are asking to be permitted to throw.

When was the last time throwing government money actually worked?  The Manhattan Project during WWII and the Apollo project in the 60s come to mind, but what else?  Since that time, from Jimmy Carter's push for alternative energy to the uncounted billions dumped into the morass of New Orleans after Katrina, our government has developed an unparalleled expertise at spending money with nothing to show for it.

This "bailout plan" isn't a plan at all; it's a political fire drill at your expense.  The Treasury and the Federal Reserve have already acted to provide necessary liquidity to the markets by offering loans to banks in need, as is their job.  No bigger bailout is required, but the politicians aren't willing to give the solution time to work.

So we find that McCain's act of political genius has put the American people, and the American economy, over a barrel.  Now that he has made his move, there are only two possible outcomes, as follows:

First, and what McCain hopes, is that he will in fact be able to pass a bailout plan and if not, blame failure on the Democrats.  If this works, it's a political masterstroke, demonstrates both his leadership and his patriotism, and will probably win him the election.  This would be a good thing for the country, as one of McCain's great strengths is his ferocious opposition to wasteful spending.

But having spent $700 billion on a bailout, is it conceivable that he's going to be able to cut that much wasteful spending elsewhere?  No.  We'll still be desperately in the hole, with dire consequences in the long term.

On the other hand, what if McCain's trumpeted attempt to pass a bailout doesn't work?  If he fails to pass a bailout plan, that's actually good for the economy in the long term - it will allow failed companies to declare bankruptcy, clear the markets, and restart with a clean slate.  Obviously there will be a sharp fall, probably a recession, but it could be expected to be a relatively short one as the problem is a crisis of faith which is not based on the underlying facts.

However, unless McCain is able to somehow blame the Democrats and specifically Obama for torpedoing the plan, his political failure would almost certainly cost him the election, putting Barack Obama in office.  Sen. Obama's stated policy prescriptions of trade barriers, higher taxes, and increased government spending are precisely what turned the crash of 1929 into the Great Depression.

Looks like we can't win here, folks.

As long as government was gridlocked and couldn't pass any new laws, there was reason to hope.  Our dire need to drill for our own oil appears to have been solved that way - Congress failed to pass an extension of the ban, so it will expire of its own accord and leasing will commence forthwith.

All we needed was for the confusion, uncertainty, and general incompetence of government to continue long enough to let the markets shake themselves out.  But no, John McCain just had to ride to the rescue.

With friends like that, who needs enemies?  Thanks, John, but no thanks!